27May
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Opinion: Facebook trends bias? Nothing to see here

The uncovering of alleged bias against ring-wing articles by Facebook has attracted cries of deceit and of bias from conservative commentators.

The discovery related to the selective makeup of Facebook’s trending news module, which appears on the top right and is seen by an estimated 1.6 billion people every day.

What is incredibly baffling though is that people, who usually champion private enterprise, are calling on Zuckerberg for balance.

The U.S. congress’s senate committee on commerce, chaired by Republican John Thune, has already written to Facebook demanding they explain how Facebook and its algorithm selects what is and isn’t news worthy.

Why is a private company being demanded to explain their internal processes by Congress? What happened to the ideology of free market competition?

Like Airbnb, an accommodation business that owns no accommodation, Uber, a transport company that owns no vehicles, Facebook is a media company platform that produces no content.

Since its inception Facebook has manipulated content to get optimal interaction. For example, showing the people you interact with the most when you go to poke someone or start a messenger conversation.

When it comes to choosing trending topics, what obligation does Facebook and Zuckerberg have to offer balanced media sharing? None, absolutely none.

The only obligation Zuckerberg has is to his shareholders. If it has been decided internally that left wing news suits the Facebook business model and drives more interaction, and therefore more dollars, then why shouldn’t Facebook be able to embrace that?

Facebook generates its revenue when people spend time using their product, and people spend time using Facebook when they find interesting material on there. This is Facebook’s model, it is how they compete in the social media market.

The counter arguments for why Facebook should be balanced are purely moral, the opponents looking for a win will champion bringing Facebook’s manifesto and the machinations of the trending project to light, hoping it will create a public relations crisis for Facebook.

What is interesting about the trending project is that it is ultimately controlled and audited with human interaction, Facebook vice-president Tom Stocky commented:

“These guidelines do not prohibit any news outlet from appearing in Trending Topics. Trending Topics is designed to showcase the current conversation happening on Facebook. Popular topics are first surfaced by an algorithm, then audited by review team members to confirm that the topics are in fact trending news in the real world and not, for example, similar-sounding topics or misnomers.”

Supposing then the auditing process comes down to auditor’s opinion, much like a news outlets editor. It is no surprise some stories will get priority over others. Once the stories start trending they are essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy because once Facebook gives these stories priority, more people see them, more people will read them and more people will comment on them.

It almost makes Facebooks choice of content even more important to how it competes in the social media market for maximum customer engagement.

Zuckerberg is already on the front foot, inviting conservative “opinion leaders” to a talkfest about how the situation can be fixed.

However, the only way this situation can be “fixed” is if right wing outlets grow, become more appealing to the mainstream and encourage its followers to like, share and comment on its content.

It is imperative that those on the right currently feeling hurt because their ideals may not be getting the traction, don’t pick up their bat and ball and go home. Stop crying about being treated unfairly, compete, find their place in the market and strive for that active competition their ideology stands for.

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